Two new publications on morphological processing, in Cortex

Both papers to appear in the forthcoming Special Issue on Structure in words: the present and future of morphological processing in a multidisciplinary perspective

Leminen, A., Smolka, E., Duñabeitia, JA. & Pliatsikas, C. (2018): Morphology in the brain: the good (inflection), the bad (derivation) and the ugly (compounding). Cortex, DOI:10.1016/j.cortex.2018.08.016

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There is considerable behavioral evidence that morphologically complex words such as ‘tax-able’ and ‘kiss-es’ are processed and represented combinatorially. In other words, they are decomposed into their constituents ‘tax’ and ‘-able’ during comprehension (reading or listening), and producing them might also involve on-the-spot combination of these constituents (especially for inflections). However, despite increasing amount of neurocognitive research, the neural mechanisms underlying these processes are still not fully understood. The purpose of this critical review is to offer a comprehensive overview on the state-of-the-art of the research on the neural mechanisms of morphological processing. In order to take into account all types of complex words, we include findings on inflected, derived, and compound words presented both visually and aurally. More specifically, we cover a wide range of electro- and magnetoencephalography (EEG and MEG, respectively) as well as structural/functional magnetic resonance imaging (s/fMRI) studies that focus on morphological processing. We present the findings with respect to the temporal course and localization of morphologically complex word processing. We summarize the observed findings, their interpretations with respect to current psycholinguistic models, and discuss methodological approaches as well as their possible limitations.


Wheeldon, L., Schuster, S., Pliatsikas, C., Malpass, D. and Lahiri, A. (2018) Beyond decomposition: processing zero-derivations in English visual word recognition

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Four experiments investigate the effects of covert morphological complexity during visual word recognition. Zero-derivations occur in English in which a change of word class occurs without any change in surface form (e.g., a boat-to boat; to soak-a soak). Boat is object-derived and is a basic noun (N), whereas soak is action-derived and is a basic verb (V). As the suffix {-ing} is only attached to verbs, deriving boating from its base, requires two steps, boat(N)>boat(V)>boating(V), while soaking can be derived in one step from soak(V). Experiments 1 to 3 used masked priming at different prime durations to test matched sets of one and two-step verbs for morphological (soaking-SOAK) and semantic priming (jolting-SOAK). Experiment 4 employed a delayed-priming paradigm in which the full verb forms (soaking and boating) were primed by noun and verb phrases (a soak/to soak, a boat/to boat). In both paradigms, different morphological priming patterns were observed for one-step and two-step verbs, demonstrating that morphological processing cannot be reduced to surface form-based segmentation.


Farewell to Quebec after a successful SNL meeting!

Our lab has had a very productive time and a strong presence at this year’s Society for the Neurobiology of Language meeting that was held in the beautiful Quebec City. With three posters and one oral presentation, we had the opportunity to chat with the experts and exchange interesting ideas! Next stop: Bangor, Wales, for the Cognitive Neuroscience of Second and Artificial Language Learning meeting!


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New publication on the longitudinal effects of bilingualism on brain structure, in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

DeLuca, V., Rothman, J., & Pliatsikas, C. (2018): Linguistic immersion and structural effects on the bilingual brain: a longitudinal study. To appear in Bilingualism: Language and Cognition

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Learning and using additional languages can result in structural changes in the brain. However, the time course of these changes, as well as the factors the predict them, are still not well understood. In this longitudinal study we test the effects of bilingual immersion on brain structure of adult sequential bilinguals not undergoing any language training, who were scanned twice, three years apart. We observed significant increases in grey matter volume in the lower left cerebellum, mean white matter diffusivity in the frontal cortex, and reshaping of the left caudate nucleus and amygdala and bilateral hippocampus. Moreover, both prior length of immersion and L2 age of acquisition were significant predictors of volumetric change in the cerebellum. Taken together, these results indicate that bilingualism-induced neurological changes continue to take place across the lifespan and are strongly related to the quantity and quality of bilingual immersion, even in highly-immersed adult bilingual populations.

Our lab’s YouTube interview with Bilingualism Matters@Reading

Our lab was recently interviewed by Bilingualism Matters@Reading. Toms, Vince and I had the opportunity to talk about our work and our findings, and also provide a small demonstration of our experiments. The full interview can be found here, and it is perfectly accompanied by a blog post by Toms and Vince here.

We would like to thank Bilingualism Matters@Reading, and particularly Professor Ludovica Serratrice and Dr Anna Wolleb, for this wonderful opportunity! As always, if you are interested in knowing more, working or studying with us, or even in participating in one of our studies, feel free to contact us here.

New publication on working memory in older age, in the Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

Pliatsikas, C., Veríssimo, J., Babcock, L., Pullman, M.Y., Dana G.A., Weinstein, M., Goldman, N., & Ullman, M.T. (2018): Working memory in older adults declines with age, but is modulated by sex and education. To appear in The Quarterly Journal of Experimental Psychology

To access, click here

Working memory (WM), which underlies the temporary storage and manipulation of information, is critical for multiple aspects of cognition and everyday life. Nevertheless, research examining WM specifically in older adults remains limited, despite the global rapid increase in human life expectancy. We examined WM in a large sample (N=754) of healthy older adults (aged 58-89) in a non-Western population (Chinese speakers) in Taiwan, on a digit n-back task. We tested the influence not only of age itself and of load (1-back vs. 2-back), but also effects of both sex and education, which have been shown to modulate WM abilities. Mixed-effects regression revealed that, within older adulthood, age negatively impacted WM abilities (with linear, not nonlinear, effects), as did load (worse performance at 2-back). In contrast, education level was positively associated with WM. Moreover, both age and education interacted with sex. With increasing age, males showed a steeper WM decline than females; with increasing education, females showed greater WM gains than males. Together with other findings, the evidence suggests that age, sex, and education all impact WM in older adults, but interact in particular ways. The results have both basic research and translational implications, and are consistent with particular benefits from increased education for women.


Our lab at the SNL 2018 conference

We are very happy to have been informed that our lab will be represented with four presentations at the upcoming Society for the Neurobiology of Language conference! These are (click on the links for abstracts):

Voits, T., Robson, H., Rothman, J., & Pliatsikas, C.: Beyond dementia: The interaction of bilingualism and neurodegeneration

DeLuca, V., Bialystok, E., Rothman, J, & Pliatsikas, C.: Bilingualism is a Spectrum: Effects of specific language experiences on brain function and executive control in bilinguals

Pliatsikas, C., DeLuca., V, Meteyard, L., Ullman, M.: Bilingualism interacts with age-related cortical thinning in children and adolescents

Pliatsikas, C: Understanding structural plasticity in the multilingual brain: The Dynamic Restructuring Hypothesis. Talk at the Satellite Symposium The Bilingual Brain – A Lifelong Perspective

Exciting times ahead! See you in Quebec City!


Invited talk by Dina Mehmedbegovic


Today our lab hosted Dr Dina Mehmedbegovic from Institute of Education (UCL). Dr Mehmedbegovic discussed the processes that lead to “language hierarchies” in education- for example, why in countries like the United Kingdom languages such as French and Spanish are considered “high value” languages and their teaching is promoted over other languages, which are considered “low value”. She also talked about the concept of a “healthy linguistic diet“, a proposed intervention to policy and practice aiming to raise awareness in additional language learning and to eradicate language hierarchies in education. In all, a very interesting talk!